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Friday, August 1, 2008


Missourians drove about 200,000 fewer miles in May 2008 than they did in May 2007, the St. Louis Business Journal reported in a July 29 story citing statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. The total miles Missouri drivers traveled dropped to nearly 6 million from 6.2 million a year ago, a decline of 3.9 percent.

With gasoline prices hovering around the $4-a-gallon range, fuel sales in Missouri dropped 3 percent from last year. According to data from the Missouri Department of Revenue cited by the paper, 355 million gallons of fuel were sold in Missouri in June 2008, down from the 366 million gallons sold in June 2007.


Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan on July 22 appointed a bipartisan duo of lawyers to take over a lawsuit that seeks to compel Gov. Matt Blunt to turn over e-mails being sought by investigators looking into whether the governor and top administration officials violated Missouri’s open records law. Callahan appointed Joe Maxwell and Louis Leonatti, both of Mexico, Mo., as “special assistant attorneys general” after earlier ruling that a team of independent investigators picked by Attorney General Jay Nixon to look into the matter had no legal standing to demand the records.

Maxwell, a Democrat, is a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker. Leonatti, a Republican, was nominated for the federal bench by President George Bush in 1992 but never confirmed for the post by the U.S. Senate. Callahan gave Maxwell and Leonatti until Aug. 26 to decide whether to continue pursuing the lawsuit.


During a July 11 news conference outside the offices of the Missouri Ethics Commission, House Speaker Rod Jetton fired back at Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a fellow Republican who a couple of weeks earlier criticized Jetton for conflicts of interest by working as a paid political consultant for several other GOP lawmakers. Jetton said he found the criticism puzzling since a top Kinder aide attempted to enlist Jetton’s services during Kinder’s short-lived gubernatorial bid earlier this year.

Kinder, who is running for re-election, has called for a state law prohibiting elected officials from serving as paid political consultants. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, also supports such a law. Their campaign season efforts come two years after state Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, first filed legislation to do exactly what Kinder and Steelman now propose. Senate Republican leaders failed to hold committee hearings on Days’ bills – SB 1167 in 2006 and SB 126 in 2007.

After Jetton’s consulting business first came to light in 2006, he sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission as to its legality. Although Jetton claims the commission approved the arrangement, the opinion actually said that although Jetton hadn’t yet broken the law “the Commission has serious concerns about the ability of an elected official to avoid violation of these laws while conducting a consulting business for compensation.”


Without public ceremony, Gov. Matt Blunt on July 10 defied the will of Missouri voters by signing a bill into law that repeals Missouri’s limits on individual donations to political candidates. Voters first imposed the limits in 1994 with 73.9 percent support. In an attempt to minimize press coverage of the bill, Blunt’s office didn’t acknowledge that SB 1038 had been signed until late the next day, a Friday. Putting out controversial news late on a Friday is known as “taking out the trash,” since the resulting stories will end up in the Saturday papers, which typically have low readership.

Under current law, individual donors can give no more than $1,350 to a statewide candidate, $675 to a Senate candidate and $325 to a House candidate per election. When it takes effect on Aug. 28 – after the Aug. 5 primary elections but before the Nov. 4 general elections -- donors will be allowed to give unlimited amounts to candidates. SB 1038 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. Most Republican lawmakers supported the bill while nearly all Democrats opposed it.


After weeks of resistance, St. Louis-based Anhueser-Busch Cos., the largest American brewer, on July 14 relented to a $52 billion buyout by InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate. In the end, Anhueser-Busch forced InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to boost its offer to $70 a share from $65 a share. Anhueser-Busch stock had been trading in the $40 range when InBev first made its offer in June.

Because of InBev’s reputation for slashing costs following its acquisitions of other brewers, many Missouri officials are concerned about the eventual loss of high-paying jobs at the company’s flagship St. Louis brewery and corporate headquarters. The sale also deals a heavy psychological blow to St. Louis, which has considered its status as the hometown of Anhueser-Busch as a source of great community pride.


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 7 signed into law a bill intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Missouri. Most of the measure, however, simply reiterates existing laws prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving government services or gaining employment in the state. HB 1549 does include some sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants but most of the toughest employer provisions were stripped from the final version of the bill.


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 9 vetoed a bill that could have given the student member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators full voting rights starting in 2011. The General Assembly passed the bill in May with overwhelming support, culminating years of efforts by lawmakers to secure voting power for the student curator. The voting members of the Board of Curators opposed the bill and praised Blunt for vetoing it.

The board consists of nine voting members – currently one from each of Missouri’s congressional districts – and one nonvoting student member. However, Missouri is expected to lose a congressional seat in January 2013 based on the 2010 U.S. Census. SB 873 sponsored state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would have given the ninth voting spot to the student curator starting in January 2011.

The bill passed 31-2 in the Senate and 100-47 in the House of Representatives. The number of supporters in the Senate would be sufficient to override the governor’s veto. The number of “yes” votes in the House fell nine short of the necessary two-thirds majority, although with 14 members absent from the final vote the mathematical possibility of reaching the 109 votes needed does exist. However, given that lawmakers of the governor’s party traditionally don’t support veto overrides except on hot-button issues, it unlikely an override will occur when the legislature convenes its annual veto session in September.


The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority has again missed a scheduled payment to the state that was required by a 2007 law championed by Gov. Matt Blunt that diverts some of the agency’s assets to the state to pay for capital improvement projects at public colleges and universities. MOHELA’s board of directors cited the continuing financial difficulties the agency has experienced since being forced to shift some of its assets to the state starting last fall

MOHELA was due to make a $5 million quarterly payment by the end of June. The board did agree to pay $850,000 to satisfy the remainder of its skipped March payment.


Gov. Matt Blunt has signed into law the $22.4 billion state operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which began July 1. This year’s budget increases overall spending by nearly $1 billion over the previous year. Blunt signed 12 of the 13 bills that make up the budget on June 27 before signing the last measure on June 30.

The budget includes a $121.3 million increase in direct state aid to local school, which falls in the normal range of increases public education receives each year. It also includes a $43 million increase for public colleges and universities, but the boost fails to restore total funding to these institutions to the FY 2002 level, which was the high-water mark for higher education funding. The budget did not restore the cuts to health care the governor and Republican-controlled General Assembly instituted in 2005.

Initial estimates show the state ended FY 2008 with a $50 million surplus. Revenue collections for the year grew by 3.7 percent, slightly higher than the 3.1 percent growth the budget was based on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


After weeks of speculation, Belgian brewer InBev SA announced a $46 billion offer to buy St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos., the nation’s largest beer producer. Gov. Matt Blunt issued a statement opposing the deal, which he called “deeply troubling.”

The takeover of Anheuser-Busch at the very least would strike a heavy psychological blow to the St. Louis region, which has taken great pride in being the company’s headquarters for well over a century. From a financial standpoint, company employees and state and local leaders are concerned about InBev’s reputation for slashing costs. A-B currently employs about 6,000 people in St. Louis and has a tradition of providing high wages and good benefits. A-B is also known for generous investments in the community.

InBev offered a cash bid of $65 per share, a premium of $6.65 above Wednesday’s closing price of $58.35 per A-B share. The Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors must approve the deal. If the board rejects it, however, InBev could take its offer directly to shareholders with a hostile takeover attempt.


The Associated Press, Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch are seeking to join a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Blunt that seeks copies of potentially damaging e-mail records the administration allegedly tried to have destroyed. An independent investigator looking into possible violations of state open records and record retention laws by high-ranking administration officials originally filed the lawsuit in May.

The e-mail controversy began in September when reporters began looking into potentially improper political activities by Blunt’s then-Chief of Staff Ed Martin. Scott Eckersley, an attorney in Blunt’s office, later was fired for advising the governor that Martin and others were breaking state laws by deleting e-mails sought by the media. According to the investigator’s lawsuit, Blunt or top aides ordered the destruction of backup tapes containing the deleted e-mails but were thwarted when two information technology supervisors with the Office of Administration refused to comply because the e-mails were subject to pending open records requests.


The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 10 that property owners may sue for financial damages when local governments declare property “blighted” in order to pave the way for a redevelopment that doesn’t occur in a timely manner. A declaration of blight is necessary step for government to use eminent domain to seize private property for redevelopment purposes.

The case involves a suburban Kansas City shopping center the city of Gladstone declared blighted in 2003 as part of a redevelopment plan that later fell through. With the threat of eminent domain looming for five years, the shopping center’s owners say they’ve lost millions of dollars from tenants not renewing leases and a resulting decline in their property’s value. The court dubbed the threatened use of eminent domain that never occurs but causes financial losses for the property’s owners as “condemnation blight.”

The ruling allows a lawsuit for damages brought by the shopping center owners to proceed and overturns a Clay County judge’s summary ruling in favor of the city. The case is Clay County Realty Co. and Edith Investment Co. v. City of Gladstone.


The U.S. Senate on June 10 unanimously confirmed President George W. Bush’s appointment of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. to the U.S. District Court for eastern Missouri. Limbaugh’s elevation to the federal bench will give Republican Gov. Matt Blunt his second appointment to the state high court.

The Missouri Constitution gives the governor a limited role in appointing appellate judges by requiring him to pick a nominee from a list of three finalists selected by the Appellate Judicial Commission. When a vacancy opened on the Supreme Court last summer, Blunt publicly complained that his favored candidates didn’t make the cut before ultimately picking Patricia Breckenridge, then a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, from among the finalists chosen by the commission. The controversy sparked an effort to amend the constitution to give the governor more control over the nominating process. House Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, defeated the proposed amendment 69-83.

Limbaugh is completing work on pending cases and is expected to resign from the Supreme Court and begin his duties on the federal bench later this summer. The Appellate Judicial Commission likely won’t begin the process of replacing Limbaugh until he either steps down or announces a firm date for when he plans to do so.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


In significantly increasing the fees it charges for driver’s license and vehicle records, the Missouri Department of Revenue factored in costs that under state law it can’t pass on to purchasers, The Associated Press reported on May 21. The AP report was based on about 200 documents related to the fee hike it obtained from the department under the Sunshine Law.

Earlier this month the revenue department raised its fees to $7 per record. The department previously charged $1.25 for an individual record, with per-record costs of just a fraction of a penny for bulk purchases. Insurance companies and other businesses authorized to obtain the records used to pay $2,035 for the complete database of 4 million records; the full database now costs $28 million.

In setting the new fee at $7 per record, the department included the cost of purchasing and maintaining a new computer database and other expenses such as employee benefits and attorney fees. The Sunshine Law, however, says the only costs government agencies may impose is 10 cents a page for documents plus the actual cost for a clerical worker to retrieve the documents. According to a Dec. 21, 2006, document obtained by the AP, it takes just 3.5 minutes for department employee to process a record request for an actual staff-time cost of 67 cents.

In the closing days of the legislative session, the General Assembly added a provision to SB 711 that cut the revenue department’s fee for bulk purchases to a half-cent per record. The governor is expected to sign the bill, which also provides property tax relief for homeowners. Some companies that routinely purchased the records have also sued the department alleging its fees are excessive under Sunshine Law.


Gov. Matt Blunt on May 21 signed into law a bill that seeks to crackdown on the theft of copper and other valuable metals. SB 1034 imposes new record-keeping requirements on scrap metal dealers and requires them to get a copy of a photo identification from sellers who aren’t regular customers and are seeking to sell more than $50 worth of metal.

The bill also prohibits scrap dealers from purchasing items such as traffic signal boxes, street signs, manhole covers, guardrails and park bleachers that are likely the property of a government agency.